A History of TRPGs in Japan – Part 8 – Stranger Aeons (2013-Present)


The surprise hit of Sword World RPG in 1989 had two notable effects. For one, there was a notable explosion of games, from a wide variety of publishers. 1989 saw the release of six new RPGs, which was pretty par for the course since 1985. In 1990, that number doubled, with only five coming from the established RPG publishers. In 1991, the number swelled to 21. To 26 in 1992. This was the high water mark, but even 1993 saw 18 new RPGs, and 1994 saw 17.

Despite this boom in the industry, Sword World RPG’s dominance as the most popular RPG, indeed the most popular fantasy RPG put Shinwa in a tough position. All new players were going to the much cheaper, much more aesthetically familiar Sword World, and Shinwa could no longer justify the expense of putting out five different box sets for D&D. In 1991, they attempted to pivot to 2nd Edition AD&D. As with D&D, the books were faithfully reproduced, in Japanese, with the same layout and trade dress as the American books. It was a complete disaster. No one playing D&D made the switch, let alone anyone playing Sword World. Shinwa suspended operations in 1992. Over the course of 1993-1994, they declared bankruptcy.

Drama of quite a different sort was unfolding over at Kadokawa. While a major publishing house in Japan, Kadokawa was still family run. Genyoshi Kadokawa founded the company in 1945, and his son Haruki took over as the CEO in 1975. Though the oldest son and heir, Haruki was less interested in running a publishing company than he was being a filmmaker. He set up a film production division in Kadokawa, and tried to break into Hollywood. This ended up with the Kadokawa company taking on lots of debt. Haruki’s younger brother, Tsuguhiko, was a vice-president in the company, and had a much better head for the publishing business. There was a power struggle, and in September of 1992, Tsuguhiko left Kadokawa, taking with him a few key personnel in the main office, and the entire workforce of the subsidiary Kadokawa Media Office. They set up a new publishing company: MediaWorks. MediaWorks began creating magazines to compete with all of Kadokawa’s offerings.

I have to warn you here, a sudden left-turn is coming. Just as MediaWorks got its magazines up and running, Tsuguhiko’s older brother Haruki, the CEO of Kadokawa...was arrested for smuggling cocaine. The Kadokawa board immediately invited Tsuguhiko to become CEO. He also remained CEO of MediaWorks And MediaWorks remained an independent company for the next 9 years.

And now to bring it full circle. Shinwa loses all its hit points in 1994, and who is there to steal its stuff, specifically the D&D license? MediaWorks, that’s who. At this point, the Rules Cyclopedia had been published by TSR, so MediaWorks decided that instead of copying the American products, they would localize it with the proven model for RPG sales: the bunko format, with anime-style art. And Tsuguhiko knew who to go to for the translation; the same man he’d gone to for Dragonlance: Hitoshi Yasuda.


The localized bunko Rules Cyclopedia

The other significant release of this era was GURPS in 1992, translated by Group SNE, and published by Kadokawa. At this time, Kadokawa had started Comp RPG, a quarterly off-shoot of Comptiq devoted only to RPGs, and GURPS was prominently featured. In particular, Group SNE wrote two novels, The Damned Stalkers (horror) and Runal Saga (fantasy), and then released GURPS supplements based on these.

In general, “generic” or “universal” systems were the taste of the day in early 1990s Japan. That said, these were generally less in the mold of GURPS, letting players play in whatever genre they wanted, but rather more in the vein of Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying: a generic system chassis on which the designers could build new games. I mentioned WARPS in the previous installment. Adventure Planning Service had its Apple Basic system. Fujimi Shobo developed MAGIUS (Multiple Assignable Game Interface for Universal System) in 1985.

Speaking of generic systems, one innovator of such systems in the 2000s would be Far East Amusement Research (F.E.A.R.), which was established in 1993. Not unlike Yuentai, F.E.A.R. was made up Tokyo-based freelance game designers, writers, translators, and creators who decided to band together. Many had written for Shinkigensha’s “Truth in Fantasy” series in the late 1980s. F.E.A.R. stated their intentions clearly with their debut RPG Tokyo @ Nova. Set in a post-apocalyptic near future, the game did not assume cooperative play by the players, nor did it use dice. Instead, checks were handled by choosing cards from one’s hand. Bold moves, given the popular systems at the time, but it did well enough for F.E.A.R. to A) establish the company, and B) remain in print and supported to this day.

Along with the glut of RPGs came a glut of RPG-related magazines. Kadokawa had Comp RPG (prominently featuring GURPS and Group SNE’s innovations for Tunnels and Trolls, among others), ASCII had LOGOUT (featuring Wizardry RPG and Ghost Hunter RPG), Mediaworks had Dengeki Adventures (featuring D&D, Earthdawn, and Crystania), and Kadokawa’s Fujimi Shobo imprint had RPG Dragon (featuring Sword World, and Shadowrun).

The bubble economy had started to deflate in 1992, though it took a while for people to really feel the effects. But new RPG releases dropped precipitously in 1995, with only 11. And other developments were afoot. In 1994, Tsuguhiko Kadokawa invited Hitoshi Yasuda to go with him to GenCon, where he was going to endeavor to get the license for the Japanese release of Magic: The Gathering. After a number of negotiations, the license ultimately went to Hobby Japan. Kadokawa and Yasuda returned to Japan disappointed, but neither quite realized what this portended for the RPG industry. In April of 1996, Hobby Japan released the Japanese version of Magic: the Gathering. In the fall of that same year, the Pokemon Trading Card Game was released. It was like a bomb, two bombs in fact, had gone off in the hobby industry.

Next Part – The Winter Age
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The title of this part is not poetic liberty on my part; it is indeed what Japanese role-players call it. It even has its own Japanese Wikipedia page!

Although the 1996 release of Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon Trading Card Game had a tremendous impact on the industry, signs that winter was coming were apparent in the years before that. Tsukuda Hobby, once one of the industry leaders, published its last RPG in 1993. (Ironically, this was F.E.A.R.’s debut RPG, Tokyo Nova.) Undoubtedly hit hard by the popping of the economic bubble, both Tsukuda Hobby and its parent company, toy manufacturer Tsukuda, fell into financial straits, and went bankrupt in 2003. The publisher of Japan’s first RPG, and its first original RPG, was no more.

Even in 1994, when 17 new RPGs were released, one could see consolidation in the RPG publishers. The many publishers that had dabbled in RPGs had quickly withdrawn, leaving only the heavy weights. Those 17 RPGs were made by only 8 companies: Kadokawa and its imprints, MediaWorks, Aspect (a subsidiary of ASCII), Hobby Japan, Shinkigensha, Yuentai, Hobby Data, and Cosmo Engineering.

The 11 RPGS released in 1995 were made by only 7 companies. Only Kadokawa, Aspect, Hobby Japan, MediaWorks and Shinkigensha remained from the previous year, joined by KIRAMEKI and KOEI. At the end of 1996, only 10 RPGs were released. KIRAMEKI and KOEI were gone, leaving only Kadokawa, Hobby Japan, and MediaWorks from the previous years, joined by Game Field, and Suzaku Games. Both Suzaku Games and Game Field were the results of designers, frustrated by the lack of work from publishers, attempting to self-publish their work. Suzaku Games was established by Yusuke Tokita, while Game Field was a division of F.E.A.R.

1997 is notable from a D&D perspective. As is well-known, this is when TSR was bought by Wizards of the Coast. Well, this was a blow to MediaWorks, because when Hobby Japan negotiated the Magic license with WotC, they got the translation rights to ALL of WotC’s analog games. And now that included D&D. After a short four years of a fully localized D&D, MediaWorks announced it was longer producing D&D content.

The RPG industry was at its lowest tide in 1998 and 1999, with only 6 RPGs released in each of those years, the lowest number of releases since 1987. And that doesn’t tell the whole story, because five of those games were released by Game Field, which had much more limited distribution than the major publishers.

One by one, the RPG dedicated magazines went away, too. Warlock closed shop in 1992, LOGOUT in 1995, CompRPG in 1996, RPG Dragon in 1997, and Dengeki Adventures in 1998. As if by sheer force of will, F.E.A.R. tried to keep the RPG industry (or at least its own RPGs) alive by publishing their own magazine, Gamers Field, through their Game Field divison in 1996. It’s still going today, making it both oldest and longest running RPG magazine in Japan.

Through all this, Group SNE survived through its having the most popular RPG and a strong relationship with Kadokawa, which was still nominally interested in being in the RPG industry. This relationship was further helped when Group SNE developed a successful trading card game for Kadokawa called Monster Collection.

Meanwhile, Yuentai became a stock company in 1992. It busied itself with play-by-mail games, continuing support for Roads to Lord, and a few other RPGs between 1992 and 1998. In 1998, there was a mass exodus of talent from the company. The Kanda branch formed a new game production company called Arclight, and became much more prolific and successful. Another group formed a gaming company called Elseware. They initially released a couple of RPGs in the early 2000s, but went to become a console game company. Finally, a third group split off in 1999 to form liar-soft, an adult computer game company.

Adventure Planning Service was out of the RPG scene for most of the 1990s. They had one successful game, Witchquest, released in 1991, but put their focus on computer games through the rest of the ‘90s. However, in the 2000s, as the Winter Age thawed they would return with SataSupe (short for Sataadei Naito Supesharu) and Labyrinth Kingdom.

ORG weathered the mid 90s with a couple RPGs, most notably a Slayers RPG using the MAGIUS system, but mostly they went the TCG route. The company still exists, but is focused exclusively on TCGs.

In 2000, a fearless newcomer came on the stage, suddenly releasing two RPGs when no one other than Game Field was releasing more than one. That company was Enterbrain (short for Entertainment Brain). Enterbrain started life in 1987 as a Japanese subsidiary of Vestron Pictures. In 1990, a stake in the company was sold to ASCII, and when Vestron went under, it was rebranded ASCII Pictures in 1992, then ASCII Visual Entertainment in 1997. ASCII went into financial trouble by 2000, and transferred their entertainment publishing division wholly to ASCII Visual Entertainment, which changed its name to Enterbrain.

One of the major things Enterbrain now owned was the Famitsu Nintendo magazine, among others, so Enterbrain decided to go whole hog on gaming of every kind. Thus, right off the bat in 2000, it picked up and released two RPG licenses looking for a home: Junichi Inoue’s Tenra Basho Zero and Suzaku Games’ New Goddess Reincarnation.

In 2001, 10 new RPGs were released, but five of these were by Enterbrain. (Among the others was Double Cross, by Shusaku Yano. This won an award from Game Field, and Yano would go on to join F.E.A.R. Double Cross remains an extremely popular game, and always a perennial No. 3 or No. 4 when the most popular RPGs are ranked.)

In 2002, a new RPG magazine (technically a periodical book) finally appeared, Role&Roll. Published by Shinkigensha, and managed by Arclight, it covers new games, provides replays, and is a venue through which Shinkigensha can publish its own RPGs. At 184 pages or so an issue, it's pretty hefty.

The Winter Age was thawing. Partly it was because the TCG boom was coming to close (although they remain extremely popular, moreso than RPGs), but mostly it was because the industry had adjusted to fit the market. Box sets had all but disappeared. Print volume was decreased to manageable levels. Fair-weather publishers were no longer flooding the market. In 2003, 20 RPGs were released, back to boom levels, though the market looked quite different. Early in January, Hobby Japan’s translation (not localized) of D&D 3e was released. And in addition to working closely with F.E.A.R. to release new games, Enterbrain continued to pick up licenses that no one else wanted. Roads to Lord in 2002. And in 2003...Call of Cthulhu. However, Hobby Japan still held the Japanese trademark to “Call of Cthulhu.” As a result, when Enterbrain released 6th Edition in 2004, it had to be titled Cthulhu Mythos TRPG. But still, it was not yet the time for the Great Old Ones to awake.

Next Part – F.E.A.R. and APS Go Generic and Kadokawa Conquers All
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Let’s go back a little bit to 1998. F.E.A.R. publishes the third edition of Tokyo N◎va, called Tokyo N◎va: The Revolution. In that RPG, they introduce the “scene system.” I made a separate, more extensive write-up on the scene system here, but to summarize, the scene system operated by segmenting the action of an RPG session into individual “scenes,” each with its particular conditions for ending that scene, and which could even be broken down to the individual PC level. In other words, a session was no longer bound to the concept of a “party,” nor were various actions like movement from place to place gamed out. F.E.A.R. really liked this innovation, and began introducing it to all their TRPGs, even those that did not originally have it, such as Seven Fortress or Double Cross.

In 2002, Tenra Bansho creator Junichi Inoue lamented that the two biggest fantasy TRPGs, Sword World and D&D, did not quite reflect the richness of the fantasy worlds seen in the computer RPG world. One may consider that the time he was thinking this, the not-at-all-traditional-swords & sorcery Final Fantasy X had just come out. To that end, Inoue worked with F.E.A.R. to create Alshard, an RPG for the “standard fantasy of the new century,” as Inoue put it. Alshard would have swords, magic, and monsters, but also guns and tech, and would not be limited to only “medieval European” tropes.

But also, one important aspect of Alshard was its portability. The system was very mechanically clean, as it were, with the intention of making it easy for anybody to convert their characters, or indeed, their whole game world, to the Alshard system. The basic structure of the game was very similar to Sword World: six ability scores, multi-classing assumed, task resolution using 2d6 + relevant bonuses.

One of the leaders of F.E.A.R., Takeshi Kikuchi, had long been fascinated with the idea of generic or universal systems. He saw the potential for this in Alshard’s rules, and convinced Inoue to let F.E.A.R. introduce this as a Standard RPG System in 2006, along with Alshard Gaia, an offshoot of Alshard set in the modern day, as a proof of concept. Perhaps inspired by d20 and the OGL, F.E.A.R.released the SRS for non-commercial use.

An English version of the SRS can be found here (link to a PDF). As you can see, it is literally the bare bones of an RPG, a chassis on which to hang the mechanics and character that make each RPG distinctive. Notably, there are no combat rules, aside from an optional “plug-in” that explains the “Engagement” rules that F.E.A.R. used in many of it’s games.

Meanwhile, in 2004, Adventure Planning Service returned to the RPG scene with Labyrinth Kingdom. Working with Rasenjin Hayami on a space pirates RPG called Cutthroat Planet, APS designer Toichiro Kawashima developed a new system. But for various (unexplained) reasons, Cutthroat Planet was delayed, and APS decided to turn Kawashima’s system into a universal one, called Saikoro Fiction (saikoro being the Japanese word for dice). Saikoro Fiction debuted in a sweet little game called Neighborhood Fairy Tale RPG Peek-a-Boo.

Saikoro Fiction, like SRS, uses 2d6 + bonuses for task resolution, as well as a scene system. It’s primary innovation was a skill matrix. The matrix is explained well in the Wikipedia article (aside from the weird ability score translations; in actuality they are the standard D&D abilities), so I won’t spend much time on it here. Suffice to say, through this system, skill checks aren’t siloed to one particular skill; rather the difficulty of a particular check is modified by its proximity on the matrix to a skill you are proficient in.

Adventure Planning Service began releasing all their games using Saikoro Fiction, including hits Shinobigami (which is one of the few Japanese TRPGs to get an English translation) and inSANe, a horror-themed RPG. Both of these still remain at the top of rankings in Japan. In addition, with these games Adventure Planning Service introduced a new form of rulebook. Instead of, say, a bunko-sized rulebook, and then a separate bunko replay book, they made B5-sized (6.9” × 9.8”) paperbacks. The first two-thirds of the book is a replay of an entire game session, and the actual rules come in the last third. So an interested player could get a feel for the rules and how the game was intended to be played, all before reading a rule. An example of play on steroids.

A notable event in 2008 was the release of Sword World 2.0. Original Sword World (and Lodoss) creator Ryo Mizuno had left the company in 1997, and the world of Forcelia had had a good 20 year run, being the subject of three different games (Lodoss RPG, Sword World, and the Legend of Crystania RPG). So the company decided that for a comprehensive revision of the Sword World rules, they would create a new world to play in. Famously, the designers said to themselves, “Okay, the game is called Sword World, so why is it called that?” and went on to make Raxia, a world that had been created by sentient swords, and in which magical swords would create dangerous labyrinths in order to find worthy wielders.

In contrast to the original Sword World RPG, Sword World 2.0 was clearly and heavily influenced by the Japanese fantasy of the time. If Junichi Inoue could lament the lack of manga, anime, and Japanese CRPGs in the FRPGs of 2002, he could not do the same after 2008. The world of Raxia was less “medieval Europe” and more “post-apocalyptic magitech civilization.” Less D&D, Dragon Quest, and Lord of the Rings, and more Alshard, Final Fantasy, and Wheel of Time.

In 2002, ASCII, once publishers of the Wizardry RPG, and numerous other RPGs through its Aspect subsidiary, fell on hard times. Aspect was spun off to Sega. The ASCII name and trademark was given to subsidiary Astro Arts, and ASCII became MediaLeaves, focusing only on computer related publications and acting as a holding company for the new ASCII and Enterbrain. By 2004, Kadokawa had a controlling interest in MediaLeaves, but still let it run independently.

In 2008, the new ASCII company merged with Media Works to form ASCII Media Works, leaving MediaLeaves with only Enterbrain as a subsidiary. In 2010, it was decided to dissolve MediaLeaves, and transfer its assets to Enterbrain. In 2013, Kadokawa absorbed ASCII Media Works and Enterbrain, leaving them only as sub-brands.

With this, Kadokawa now had a near monopoly on TRPG publications. Its only real competitor was Shinkigensha, that little upstart publishing company established in 1982, and that got into TRPGs at an early stage. It stepped away for a brief moment during the Winter Age, but it came back with a vengeance, and has outlasted many larger companies that have gotten out of the industry, if not gone bankrupt.

Next Part – Stranger Aeons
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Interestingly, both games come with two d20s (numbered 0-9 twice) and two d6s. I’m not sure why d20s were used in lieu of d10s, but perhaps they were easier to get a hold of at the time.

d10s barely existed in the early 1980's.
The 20 sided shape is a platonic solid, while the 10 sided shape is not.

Before we were using polyhedrons for dice they were most often used just to demonstrate the platonic solids. So it was much easier to get a 20 sided shape made than it was to get a 10 sided one, as moulds for the 20 sided shape were already in use.

Hence the 1-10 or 0-9 numbered twice on an icosahedron.

The 20 sided shape is a platonic solid, while the 10 sided shape is not.

Before we were using polyhedrons for dice they were most often used just to demonstrate the platonic solids. So it was much easier to get a 20 sided shape made than it was to get a 10 sided one, as moulds for the 20 sided shape were already in use.

Hence the 1-10 or 0-9 numbered twice on an icosahedron.
Possibly, though I do not recall ever seeing a dodecahedron (d12) before dice. One way or another it just seemed pretty natural in any case. To be honest, I don't think the IDEA of a 'percentile roll', which is the main purpose of d10s, was even conceived, or thought necessary at least, in early D&D or previous to D&D, whereas 3, 4, and perhaps 8 sided dice rather long predate D&D. It is an interesting question why the d20 was more likely to arise. Again I don't really recall seeing an icosahedron before d20s appeared, but its likely they existed somewhere. Buckminster Fuller obviously made things with that shape.


So, I’m not entirely sure this is the reason, but it just so happens that Lovecraft’s pre-1927 writings went into the Japanese public domain in 2008. In 2009, light novel writer Manta Aisora debuted a series called Haiyore! Nyaruko-san (lit. Crawl Up! Nyaruko-san, later given the official English title Nyaruko: Crawling With Love). It was in the venerable genre of “magical girl love-comedy,” in which a girl with special powers, often from another world or dimension, falls in love with a normal Japanese guy, moves in with him, and hijinks ensue. The key here is that the magical girl, Nyaruko, is a Lovecraftian alien (reminiscent of Nyarlathotep). Later more Lovecraftian magical girls appear, to cause more chaos in the main character’s life.

The light novel was a hit, and was soon made to into a series of Flash animations from 2009 to 2011. These were enough of a success that an anime was green-lit, which began broadcast on TV Tokyo and its affiliates in April 2012. But the significant thing for our purposes is that the director, Tsuyoshi Nagasawa, was a fan and player of the Call of Cthulhu RPG. And he started liberally peppering CoC easter eggs and references into the anime. Some of it is not subtle. The opening song of the anime begins by repeating “SAN-chi pinchi!” (SAN stat in trouble!) 15 times before the verses even begin.

These references caused a sharp spike in new interest in the TRPG. In the old days, this might have led to a brief wave of interest, but this was age of the Internet and video sites. In Japan’s case, this was Niconico, a video-sharing site like YouTube, but targeted to Japanese. And some of the early content on Niconico was TRPG replay videos, using video editing software with anime character art assets and a voice synthesizer. So when these intrigued Nyaruko fans searched for the Cthulhu Mythos TRPG, they would come across these videos that showed how to play.

This further contributed to a surge of new players. On a previous post here on ENWorld, I showed on gaming cafe’s stats on RPGs played there. One can see a distinct jump in 2012 and 2013, when the first two seasons of the anime aired. There was no season in 2014, and the numbers drop again, but then shoot up again in 2015. In 2015, the finale of the story was released as an anime movie.

Looking Google Trends for the Japanese title of CoC RPG, the peaks and valleys are distinct. Virtually no movement from 2004 to 2012, and then a big jump up in April, when the anime first airs. And after that a steady rise until it peaks in 2015. This created a virtuous cycle, the kind that put D&D on top of the Western market, and had propelled Sword World to such heights in 1989. As new players came in wanting to play CoC, more and more CoC games became available, until the point that if you want to find a game, more often than not you’re going to find a CoC one. But there were other factors as well. Since many of the new players came to the game through Nyaruko, or through the video replays, they didn’t at all feel bound to play in the 1920s United States. Rather the immediately began playing in a variety of settings, including Japanese high schools. Also, while fantasy role-playing required some familiarity with fantasy role-playing tropes, be that Lord of the Rings, or Final Fantasy, or what have you, the fact that CoC characters were just normal folks in the “real” world made it more approachable. The mystery-solving aspect was appealing. And the fact that it was horror meant that any number of failure states could be accepted and normalized. TRPG translator Masayuki Sakamoto put it, “Even if the players don’t do very well in the story, it can just be chalked up to the horror aspect. Whether it’s ‘Everyone died, but we stopped the resurgence of the evil gods,’ or even ‘The evil gods awoke and destroyed the world,’ it’s allowed as a story.”

The new generation of players have taken to playstyles not necessarily favored by the older participants of the hobby. Among them are narikiri (“become completely”) and uchiyoso (roughly translated as “you-and-me”). Narikiri refers to heavy in-character role-play, in particular the use of anime-style voices to create immersion. To the point that it behooves a would-be player to find out before joining a group whether it is narikiri or not. Uchiyoso is a style in which two players agree for some kind of strong relationship to exist between their characters. In essence, the two characters almost become one character unit, because what will happen to one will strongly affect the other.

Meanwhile, it pains me to say it, but Wizards of the Coast completely ceded the Japanese market in 2014. In June of that year, Hobby Japan released it’s final translation for 4e: the Book of Vile Darkness. They were eagerly awaiting the source materials and go-ahead to translate 5e, but then word came in July: Wizards was not allowing licensing of new edition translations. Not just for Japan, but in all foreign language markets. Wizards would not comment on when translations might be forthcoming. Hobby Japan milked the remains of their now defunct license for all that they were worth, releasing translations of the D&D Next playtest adventures Murder in Baldur’s Gate and Legacy of the Crystal Shard. And then, D&D as a supported RPG in Japan, was no more.

Then, in 2015, a very cool thing happened. Hobby Japan outsources its translations to translation companies, who either handle it in-house, or use freelancers. Through Adventurers League Japan Regional Coordinator Takeya Ukifune, the translators who had heretofore handled D&D got together to form a Translation Team and an Editing Team, and translated the 5e Basic Rules on their own time, for no compensation. Then they brought it to Hobby Japan and asked them to somehow get Wizards’ approval to host the translation on Hobby Japan’s website. Hobby Japan was able to get Wizards’ approval, and after two of their in-house editors took a final editing pass, they hosted it on the their website. Japanese D&D fans could finally enjoy 5e, if in a somewhat limited form.

This was the state of things until 2017, when Wizards contracted with Gale Force 9 to oversee overseas translation and distribution. Gale Force 9 naturally partnered with Hobby Japan for the new translations, and by November of that year, Hobby Japan released the Players Handbook. This went on for the next four years, with Hobby Japan quickly catching up with Wizards’ output, and then releasing Japanese versions of the books only slightly after their North American release.

Unfortunately, in October 2021, just before the translations of Icewind Dale and Tasha’s was to be released, Wizards made the decision to take foreign language edition production in-house. New releases were canceled, and new printings of existing books were stopped. Again, there was no information on what was to come in the next year. It turned out that Wizards relaunched 5e in December 2022, but for over a year, Japanese D&D players were again in limbo. When Wizards relaunched the line, only the core rulebooks, Xanathar’s, the Essentials Kit, and the new Starter Set (Stormwreck Isle) were available.

Interestingly, after losing the license (again!), Hobby Japan became what I believe to be the first Japanese publisher to use the OGL. They have a PDF for a game called Fifth Edition RPG, which is essentially a translation of the 5e SRD. Meanwhile, Wizards has now released Japanese versions of Fizban's, Tasha's, Wild Beyond the Witchlight, Radiant Citadel, and scheduled for a December 2023 release is Dragonlance. D&D remains relatively known among TRPG players, and has long had its own following, but I fear that following has been jerked around by Wizards ever since their purchase of TSR killed the Shinwa localizations. Between new editions and half-editions and editions not released, then released but paused, there just never seems to be any stability for D&D to really grow a significant fanbase. Wizard’s re-release in 2022 had an initial strong marketing push, but it seems to have slowed down, likely in preparation for the 2024 revision.

Anyway, like in America, the pandemic drove many TRPG players to online play. There are a number of Japanese VTTs. The most popular was Dodontof, but this relied on Flash Player, and so was closed after Flash Player was discontinued in 2020. Since then, a number of sites were developed imitating Dodontof’s functionality. I’m thinking of devoting a separate post to looking at these VTTs.

And this is where we are. TRPGs are still a minor subculture, but a thriving one, with a variety of foreign and domestic games being played. Group SNE, F.E.A.R., and Adventure Planning Service are established as the primary creative organizations, but Arclight is the one with Call of Cthulhu, by far the most dominant game. Kadokawa dominates the publishing side of the industry, publishing Arclight’s CoC, Group SNE’s Sword World, and F.E.A.R.’s Double Cross, among many other games, but Shinkigensha is a significant presence, publishing Adventure Planning Service’s Shinobigami and inSANe, two of the other top-selling games. Also, in 2020, it wholly purchased Arclight as a subsidiary. The hobby is well-serviced by the magazines Gamer’s Field (F.E.A.R.), Role&Roll (produced by Arclight, published by Shinkigensha), and the new GM Warlock (produced by Group SNE, published by Shinkigensha). Hobby Japan is still involved in bringing overseas RPGs to Japan, their current biggest seller being R. Talsorian’s Cyberpunk Red. D&D has had a shaky road, but is big enough that games can be found in all the big cities.

What does the future hold? The above has been the status quo since the mid-2010s, so the TRPG hobby in Japan seems due for some kind of shake-up. We’ll have to wait and see!
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Blue Orange

Gone to Texas
Arigato gozaimasu, Iosue-sama! I'm happy to see the Bihoruda get some exposure. I'm only sorry I don't get to see the anime-style pictures of all the old-school D&D stuff!

One small correction: Nyarko is, in fact, implied to be the actual Nyarlathotep, though it's a race of beings rather than a single creature; she has a brother, Nyaruo, whose battle form is similar to the three-legged big-tongue monster that's the most famous avatar of Nyarlathotep. Others include Hasuta (Hastur), Kuuko (Cthugha), and Ghutatan (Ghatanathoa); the mythos deities are held to be races rather than individuals (they are from the 'planet Hastur', etc.) and visited HPL in-universe, but he got scared and turned them into monsters. It is, however, still implied their true forms would drive people nuts and cause a loss of sanity (complete with shot of character sheet recognizable as being from Call of Cthulhu and percentile dice), and all of them are in human form throughout the anime. There's also a scene where they're playing baseball and you see their stats, which are clearly the pre-7e Call of Cthulhu stats of the deities (Nyarko has INT 86 and POW 100, listed in the Latin alphabet).

Hasuta and Nyarko have crushes on the main character, Mahiro Yasaka, whereas Kuuko has a crush on Nyarko. (Yes, two of these are same-sex interactions.) The anime itself is a pretty standard harem anime from what little I can tell (haven't seen any others). It's reasonably funny and does include a bunch of references to the in-game Cthulhu Mythos, though all significantly less horrifying. It's quite on the silly side, though not unusually for anime (this is a medium that has 'reincarnated as a vending machine' as an actual series premise for instance).


I should note an amusing quirk of trademark and licensing regarding Call of Cthulhu.

Naturally, Chaosium holds the trademark for "Call of Cthulhu." However, Hobby Japan holds the trademark for クトゥルフの呼び声 (Kuturufu no yobigoe, i.e., "call/cry of Cthulhu"). As a result, when Enterbrain got the license, while "Call of Cthulhu" was prominently displayed on the covers of materials, the Japanese title had to be changed to クトゥルフ神話TRPG (Kuturufu shinwa TRPG, i.e., "Cthulhu Mythos TRPG").

But then in 2022, Petersen Games put out Sandy Petersen's Cthulhu Mythos," a 5e OGL game. Hobby Japan got the translation license, and because they still have the trademark to Kuturufu no yobigoe, they published it under that title. So, in Japan, Cthulhu Mythos is called "Call of Cthulhu" in Japanese, and Call of Cthulhu is called "Cthulhu Mythos" in Japanese. And both retain their English titles, for maximum confusion.*

Incidentally, Shoenshinsha publishes Group SNE's translation of Pelgrane Press's Trail of Cthulhu as トレイル・オブ・クトゥルー (toreiru obu kuturuu), taking advantage of the uncertain pronunciation of "Cthulhu" in English.

*There isn't really any confusion. "CoC" remains the common abbreviation of the Enterbrain-published game, and if a role-player mentions "Cthulhu," everyone knows they are talking about that game.

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